By Melissa Donovan
High-speed material handling systems keep pace with digital printing and finishing equipment. To achieve this, today’s solutions boast a combination of advanced hardware driven by equally advanced software.
Stacking, loading, unloading, and more features are addressed using automated material handling solutions.
Machines are designed to handle the challenges of corrugated board. The material is heavy—on principal, which is why it is selected for certain applications; and can be difficult to handle when stacked and moved in large piles. Despite its issues, it’s becoming a popular medium as direct digital printing quickly penetrates this space.
Future Market Insights’ Heavy Duty Corrugated Packaging Market: Flourishing Retail & Consumer Goods to Generate Substantial Demand: Global Industry Analysis 2014-2028 and Opportunity Assessment 2019-2029 estimated the global heavy-duty corrugated packaging market size in 2019 to be over $17B U.S. At the same time, it forecast the market size to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately five percent over the forecast period.
It predicts this growth will unfold because corrugated boxes continue to maintain a lead over its counterparts, for their excellent crush resistance and high strength, whereas penetration of superstores will push the demand for point of purchase displays.
The report notes that “among board type, double wall board is estimated to be prominent in the market throughout the forecast period with market share of more than half in the heavy-duty corrugated packaging market. Features such as durability and extra padding offered by double wall boards ensure safety of heavy goods during transit.”
Thanks to the acceleration of online ordering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, corrugated packaging is used more frequently. The demand necessitates automation across the board simply to keep up.
“The bottom line on printing and finishing systems is can you set it up, load a pallet, walk away, and retrieve the pallet after printing. If you have to constantly monitor and adjust the system to ensure a continuous flow of material you negate the labor savings these systems are designed to eliminate,” notes Larry D’Amico, sales director, North America, Durst Image Technology US, LLC.
There is great importance in utilizing media handling systems for corrugated board when implementing a digital printing and finishing system to complete an automated workflow, but perhaps it can be said that utilizing automated media handling systems is even more important in today’s economic climate.
According to John Stikes, director of strategic alliances, OTTO Motors, over the last 30 years operations executives have automated parts of their supply chains. However, “automation of tasks has outpaced the orchestration of the facility. As a result many warehouses and manufacturing facilities are now filled with disparate automation processes.”
A continued drive in online ordering is a huge influence on the economy, effecting packaging converters, printers, and manufacturers. The surge in necessary packaging product is huge, and many of it requires some type of product or brand messaging. Automated media handling systems are an asset in these environments.
“The most valuable part of any company is its people and leveraging them to push, pull, and carry material is inefficient at best and dangerous at worst,” notes Stikes. Automating a critical part of the supply chain like material handling “enables the reallocation of people to other parts of the value chain.”
Customer requirements are changing. “They want to have just-in-time packaging and more personalized packaging that fits the product as best as possible. Order quantities are now far smaller and more frequent, and customers try to avoid keeping packaging stocks altogether or at least strive to keep these to a bare minimum,” stresses Caroline Bell, marketing coordinator, Elitron IPM S.r.l.
In addition to keeping up with demand, many businesses are dealing with limited staff. “With the current employment shortages, the need for automation has become a central focus for many companies inside and outside of our industry,” states D’Amico.
“Especially in today’s economic climate and the difficult employment situation many companies are facing, the need for automation is greater than ever. In a digital printing and finishing workflow, where automation is the key to productivity, ‘more is better,’ in other words, the fewer processes that require manual intervention, the greater the time, cost, and labor savings,” explains Beatrice Drury, marketing manager, Zund America, Inc.
Digital printers/finishers look for many features on corrugated media handling systems from feeding and stacking to unloading/loading and flipping.
The ADI/PDM Digital Stacker from ADI/PDM Trade Group is designed for high-speed stacking while producing quality stacks with an accurate unit count, and is also capable of handling two-out production. The stacker is a continuous run solution that does not halt production while inserting a skid or bottom sheet. It will also stack various thicknesses and materials. The ADI/PDM Stacker automatically removes any sheet the printer detects as a reject before it can enter the unit.
Alliance Machine Systems International, LLC offers the Raptor XR, a fully automatic robotic load former with an integrated vision system. Advanced optical recognition technology identifies the exact location and skew of each bundle as it moves down the conveyor, allowing the robot to grasp the bundle on the fly and quickly place it in its proper position with the load.
In the past year, Durst announced new automation for its P5 350 series of printers. The Durst Automat is a feeding and stacking system for full and 3/4 automated printing processes. It can manage up to two lanes, also with different board sizes up to 3.5 meters in width or 137.8 inches and 2.2 meters or 86.6 inches length and has a loading capacity of 35.5 inches. Thanks to its sliding registration tables, a comfortable access to the roll tool enables a fast material change operated by a single operator.
The Elitron Heleva loading system can be used with flatbed printers to automate loading. Single or multiple sheets are automatically selected from the material stacks and aligned prior to being loaded into the printer. Used in conjunction with a rolling conveyor, materials can be selected automatically, as and when given input directly from the printer.
ENGICO s.r.l offers a combination of feeder and stacker modules for a completely automated pallet-to-pallet workflow and unattended production. It is designed for its Aqua 250, an innovative industrial water-based inkjet press for direct printing on solid and corrugated boards and many other paper-based materials.
Hostert Pro GmbH developed the Automatic Loader for industrial flatbed printers. It can handle different media, including foam PVC, corrugated carton, thick paper, and compressed cardboard. Media can also be loaded in different formats as well as re-loading for double-sided printing. Substrates up to 25 millimeters thick and 20 kilograms in weight can be loaded automatically. The Automatic Loader can be used fully automatically, 3/4 automatically, and manually.
Infinite Motion Control (IMC) designs easy-to-operate sheet feeders and stackers for printing and finishing automation needs. Fast and efficient sheet feeding is achieved through in-feeders and board loaders for narrow to wide format. IMC offers several processing options including pallet feeds, table feeds, board flipping, board draggers, alignment tables, and print registration. In regards to stackers, solutions are available for portrait- or landscape-oriented lines and can be designed to deliver sheets for stacking straight through or at a right angle to various finishing processes.
OTTO Motors provides autonomous material handling inside manufacturing facilities and warehouses. The company’s technology is behind some of the largest deployments of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in North America. It just introduced the OTTO 1500 V2, a workhorse AMR that delivers 1,900 kilograms of materials at speeds of two meters per second.
swissQprint’s Rob robot loads and unloads media onto a flatbed printer. Practically any sufficiently rigid material with a non-porous surface can be handled. Just a few simple steps and within ten minutes Rob is docked to the printer and ready to go.
WSA USA LLC offers a variety of material handling solutions designed for today’s latest high speed, large format, sheetfed digital printing machines. This includes plastic belt infeed conveyors, stack inverters, lead edge alignment, plastic belt discharge conveyor, bottom sheet insertion, automatic pallet insertion, and automatic strapped controls. The solutions can be integrated with major digital printer brands like Barberan, EFI, and HP Inc.
Zünd pairs its dual-beam D3 cutter with a fully automated/robotic BHS150 board handling system. It offers an efficient 1.5-meter or five-foot stack height, allowing for significantly longer uninterrupted operating time. In addition, finished stacks can be removed without interrupting production. The BHS150 is able to process materials up to 110 millimeters or 4.3 inches thick. An offload conveyor and stacking system deposits cut sheets in a perfect stack on a pallet.
Considering the cost of some of these solutions, D’Amico cites the investment in automation generally running 15 to 25 percent the cost of the printer. “The return on investment (ROI) is directly tied to the labor associated with the alternative of hand feeding the material.”
In the Ideal
Corrugated manufacturers, printers, and converters in the digital print space are lucky, as when determining which material handling solution is best for them they have the choice between a bespoke, built from the ground up solution, something more turnkey, or a combination of both.
D’Amico believes the demand for automation is still somewhat soft and this translates to more turnkey solutions making their way into the marketplace. “As work still remains very short run, with frequent media changeovers, the ROI for automation is lower. As run lengths get longer and finding employees becomes more difficult and costly the demand for automation will rise. In these instances, most companies are looking for a turnkey solution.”
Drury argues that bespoke systems can meet immediate and specific needs, but she questions their long-term viability. “Turnkey systems, especially those that are highly modular and therefore adaptable, are more likely to receive long-term support from the manufacturer, which makes them a far better investment.”
A hybrid or integrated solution is a more practical approach, according to Marc Raad, president, Significans Automation. This option is “designed to leverage common base components and technical foundations with the ability to develop or integrate custom tooling or interfaces to existing and future technologies. It also offers the benefit of standard platforms and most of the advantages of bespoke solutions.”
The decision to pursue a hybrid, bespoke, or turnkey option is based on the customer. “Most require a bit of both, in order to achieve the best possible productivity. If it’s automation a customer is interested in then generally they have specific requirements and it’s up to us to come up with a bespoke solution, incorporating often more than one system in the overall installation,” says Bell.
Care and Keeping
Similar to printer and finisher upkeep, the care of a material handling system needs to be taken into account. Warranties as well as service contracts are offered to ensure the system lasts as long as the printer or finisher it’s involved with.
Zünd mimics the upkeep, warranties, and support found in relation to its cutting systems on its board handling devices. “They are built to last,” says Drury.
OTTO Motors offers OTTO Care, which provides flexible options designed to suit the facility and operational environments the handling solution is placed in. “OTTO Care gives you peace of mind by connecting your team with our expert technical support, resources, tools and training, the latest software updates, and even proactive maintenance and mission-critical on-site priority repair,” explains Stikes.
Bell says that at Elitron, the staff visit installations once a year. This is in order to perform preventive maintenance. “As production is a very much non-stop in many cases, preventative maintenance is key to continual productivity.”
“Limited upkeep is normally required since these devices have less maintenance intensive components like inkjet printheads. You can generally expect the automation options to last for the life of the printer,” shares D’Amico.
Automated material handling systems, especially for corrugated board, are an asset in any type of facility, but perhaps more so in high-production environments. With packaging converters and manufacturers incorporating digital printing and finishing in house, it makes sense that material handling mechanisms are in place to move the production process along quickly and efficiently.
Feb2022, Digital Output